23 December 2014

Onesta Confections: Popcorn, Pastries, and Pretty Packages

Christmas is a big deal in the Irani household. The tree comes out a week in advance, with mom and I decorating it with the same trinkets that I've been collecting as a little girl. I still get presents under my tree just as I did as a child, with the exception that I know it's not Santa who is leaving them behind. And then of course, there's the rum cake and marzipan that our neighbors and friends so generously send across. Growing up in Bandra has made me a lover of Christmas and all the festivities that come alongside. What are your Christmas and New Year plans?

Christmas came home early this year, when I walked home post work one day to a large hamper from Onesta Confections sitting pretty under my tree.  Onesta which means 'honesty' in Italian, is the baby and brainchild of Neha Chaudhary. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York, and gaining further experience working at the J.W.Mariott, Mumbai; Neha started her own brand of desserts retailing out of Juhu.

I scouted through their entire website (www.onesta.in) and was thrilled to see a variety of cakes which looked really pretty on the menu. I then proceeded to wipe the drool off my keyboard. There's also the standard cupcakes here. And some interesting looking chocolates which would make a lovely gift. What caught my eye was the exhaustive range of popcorn....yes, popcorn! Popcorn in a large variety of flavors which I think is extremely fun and unusual.

The packaging is what first caught my eye. In a bright and pretty aqua color offset with bows, the boxes are ideal to gift someone. I opened my first box to find snuggled inside a Baked Cheesecake with Whipped Cream frosting. All three layers  - the topmost whipped cream, the dense cream cheese center and the crumbly biscuit base - fit in a single bite and is a wonderful contrast of textures. I've eaten better cheesecakes, but the Onesta one is pretty good too!

Baked Cheesecake with Whipped Cream Frosting
Another pleasant surprise was the Mini Chocolate Box filled with a dozen different chocolate flavors. I nibbled on the unusual Peanut Toffee, Salted Caramel, and Hazelnut Cappuccino flavors all of which I loved. (I'm a chocolate lover. I'll love anything chocolate.) The box also has the basic Vanilla, Cashew, Almond and other assorted flavors, and I think it makes for a lovely gift priced at Rs. 390/- for twelve variants.

Chocolate Box!
What I found really interesting in the Onesta menu was the gourmet popcorn. It instantly took me back in time to 'Hoggers Park', this popcorn store in Bandra which sold the yummiest popcorn. As a kid, we'd collect our pocket money and visit the store to have our stomachs filled with popcorn. The availability of this versatile and healthy snack is now limited to movie theaters and a few stand alone stores, none of which do popcorn as well as Onesta does. 

The Original Popcorn which was lightly salted came in a large tin, and was absolutely delicious. The kernels were perfectly popped and crunchy. The other varieties include Cheese, Caramel, Indian masala, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Butter and Kettle Corn. My favorites were the spicy Masala, rich Chocolate and the low fat, lightly sweetened Kettle Corn. With barely any cinnamon spice to speak of, the cinnamon flavor was my least favorite.

Natural Popcorn - Big Tin
(Clockwise): Chocolate, Butter, Masala,
Kettle Corn, Cinnamon, Cheese, Caramel

What I enjoyed in the popcorn types was how evenly coated all the kernels were. The consistency and richness in the flavors came across strikingly. The butter leaves your hands greasy, and the cheese leaves your fingers with a cheddar smell. No uncooked or hard kernels, and nothing that will get stuck in your teeth. This is gourmet popcorn! As a concept, I think this will be a hit at house parties, or even as a snack to be shelved at home. The popcorn is indeed delicious, and it hasn't got stale yet after almost a week because of the packaging which is a major plus point. I'd love to see some more interesting savory flavors such as jalapeno, or pizza, or even regular tomato on the menu some day. Priced between Rs. 110-200 for a small tin, depending on the flavor, a lot of people may find it on the pricier side. But having eaten the popcorn, I'd say it's worth it.

What an awesome start to the festive season I had shoving my mouth with popcorn and candy. Hope yours is just as fun and food-filled. Happy Holidays!

Website: www.onesta.in
Twitter/Instagram: @onestaindia
Facebook page here

18 December 2014

Pune Diaries - Something Old and Something New

I've lost track of the number of times I've traveled to Pune for work and play, conferences and recreation. Ever since my maternal grandparents moved to Pune over a decade ago, a lot of weekends were spent there with family which included movies, shopping and most importantly stuffing our faces with food so that we'd come back five kilos heavier. Anything lesser, and my grandmother would take it as a personal insult. I was back after almost a year, and this time I was looking forward to trying out my old favorite eating places again. And trying out the newly recommended and read about foodie joints. So in absolute random order, here is my Pune food diary - including the old and the new. (Keeping it short and sweet here. Listing out only my absolute favorites from the trip, along with a few pictures. I could do an elaborate review also, but then that would result in me having to write a book. Any publishers interested? Lol.)

Something Old:

1. Dorabjee and Sons:
Everytime someone asks me for Parsi food recommendations in Mumbai, I tell them to take a bus to Pune and eat at Dorabjee's. My visit this time around, was consistent with all previous times; hearty food, memories, tradition, and the same waiter serving me who has been working at Dorabjee's since 30 years! This institute of a restaurant, established in 1878 is situated on a picturesque street that screams out - Bawa! This place proves that good food comes first in the restaurant business, everything else later. Go on a Sunday and try out their mutton Dhansak (Rs. 250/-) and Patraa fish (Rs. 200/-) which is unavailable on other days. Round it up with an awesomely caramelized Lagan nu Custard (Rs. 50/-) which transported me back to a Parsi wedding. Jamva Chalo Ji! 

Patra Fish
Lagan nu Custard

Mutton Dhansak
2. The 'Mastani': A Mastani is local to Pune with many stalls scattered across the city, and I doubt you find it anywhere else. It is a combination of a super thick shake, and an ice-cream both of the same flavor. My first tryst with the Mastani was when I was a child, I remember being huddled up in the back seat of a car with my cousins on a dark, cold night savouring my Mastani. Cut to, many years later, the Mastani tasted the same. I absolutely love the Mango flavour which at 50 bucks for a small glass fills your stomach, yet greedily makes you want more. I'm Deewani for this Mastani. (I apologize for this shitty pun, but I just had to!)

Mango Mastani
3. Marz-O-Rin: Everyone seems to call this place, the 'Candies' of Pune and I do see some resemblance between the two. Shitty self service queues that go on forever, and mad scrambles for a good seat, but delicious VFM snacks that make up for everything. The sandwiches, puffs, rolls, pastries, cakes, burgers, sundaes, juices, and more are so so reasonably priced. Yet so so delicious. The 30 rupees chutney sandwiches tasted exactly the same as they do on every visit of mine.

Chicken Burger with Relish, Chutney Sandwich,
Cool Blue, Lemmon Lassi
(A meal under 200 bucks)
Pineapple Cream Pastry
4. Kayani Bakery: Pune is filled with bakeries but Kayani stands above all the others. Whoever comes to Pune comes with 'Shrewsbury biscuit from Kayani' on their shopping list. Everyone braves the serpentine queues, military rules, and erratic timings to get their share of biscuits and cakes. I'm partial to their Mawa cakes the size of an adult fist, that I eat for breakfast along with 'Choi' or milk. Continued that tradition this time around too. 

Something New:

1. Burger King: This place is not new in any means, but new for me as I visited it the first time inspite of all my trips to Pune. Originally called Burger King, and later re-christened to Burger, after the fast food chain took legal action against them. The owner is clearly a crazy Beatles fan, bordering on OCD, with so many posters all over the place. Burgers are the king here - but these are old school burgers with large patties, soft bun bread, and an overdose of mayo and tomato ketchup. We were told to wait atleast 30-40 minutes for our order, or else buzz off, which was an alien concept for me. Aren't burgers fast food after all? But it was well worth the wait. Our King Beef burger (Rs. 80/-) was bigger than my face and eating one will ensure you'll be too full to eat your next meal. The Chicken Hot Dog (Rs. 60/-) was macabre looking and completely avoidable. We loved the Chicken mix surprise (Rs 80/-) which came with roast chicken, chicken sausage, chicken salami and left us pleasantly surprised. If you ever visit Pune, don't be an idiot like I was all this time and leave without visiting Burger King

King Burger with a view to match 
Beatles OCD
Rules for Eating at my Restaurant
Gruesome looking Chicken Hot Dog
2. GoodLuck Cafe: Each visit I ensure going to a new Irani cafe which the city is generously blessed with. After a lot of recommendations from Twitter folk, I trek upto GoodLuck Chowk where this cafe sits, for some good ol' sweet, Irani Chai and generously buttered Brun Maska (Rs. 40/-). Our Omelette Pav (Rs. 60/-) and Bhurji pav (Rs. 50/-) were yummy and the soft bread overpowers even the egg here. The breads were good enough, just to be eaten plain. Don't ever return from Pune without a visit to an Irani cafe, or else face the wrath of this Irani!

Omelette Pav
Brun Maska - Chai
Bhurji Pav
Caramel Custard
3. Dario's: This beautiful restaurant situated in the heart of Koregaon Park has the most romantic outdoor seating, especially with Pune winters adding to the charm. I almost did an about turn when I realised it was pure vegetarian, but I'm glad I didn't. I had an amazing Italian meal paired with delicious wine under a canopy of stars, and I didn't miss the meat one bit. Our Tortellini Zarba (Rs. 500/-) was the best tortellini I've ever eaten. The stuffing of mushroom and cheese was absolutely delectable, in a cheese sauce that was so rich. Our 'White pizza' (Rs. 460/-) with potatoes, onions, cheese, sun dried tomato, proved that you don't need tomato sauce as a base to make a really good pizza.

White Pizza

Tortellini Zarba
4. Independence Brewing Company: You don't visit Pune and not visit one of Pune's famous breweries. This time I went to Independance Brewing Company, and sampled all their in-house beer brews. Whenever you're there try something called a 'Beer Flight' which for a measly 60 bucks enables you to try 100 ml. samples of all six of their beers which is an absolute steal and great way to try newer brews. My favorite of the lot was the milder, citrus-ey Belgian Wit Beer. (Rs. 240/- for 500 ml.) With respect to breweries, Pune kicks Mumbai in the butt!

With that I wrap up my Pune Diaries. This in no way is a comprehensive list, and only tops off a few of the places I visited this time. There's a limit to how many meals one can eat in a day, unfortunately. Sigh! The next time I go back, I'll add on to my list. Suggestions are always welcome. And I'll surely be back to Pune soon. After all, I leave a tiny piece of my heart in the city everytime I visit.

(The author dined anonymously and paid for her own meals.)

6 December 2014

Tea Break: The XVII Tea Room, Bandra

Tea rooms are the new coffee shops. It is the latest trend in the city, that aims at elevating tea drinking, from the cutting chai that one has at local stalls to an elaborate, finer affair. Newer tea rooms have been setting up shop all over the city and older ones revamping themselves. The latest tea room to join the Bandra bandwagon is The XVII Tea Room situated on Turner Road. A few friends and I decided to skip our regular evening coffee routine, and meet up over tea instead. Our experience was so lovely, I decided to share it with you'll. Stick out your pinkie finger, take a sip, and read on.

The rectangular space is done up with purple, velvet upholstered chairs and carpets to match. Opulent chandeliers hang from the ceiling and give company to a hand painted Alice in Wonderland-ish mural complete with teapots, cats, and a girl on a swing. There's even an adorable pet cat napping at the entrance, who greets you with a meow. Très adorable! 

The XVII Tea Room was empty the evening we visited, with only the aforementioned girl on the swing to give us company. The menu is very well priced, and covers a variety of brewed teas, flavoured teas, traditional desi chais and iced teas. They also do hot and cold coffee, but then again, why come here to have that? Their snack menu is all vegetarian...gasp! But their enticing Dutch pancake and dessert menu makes up for that loss.

My Strawberry Basil Tea (Rs. 120/-) was a lovely strawberry flavoured tea which was not cloyingly sweet, and had a lingering aftertaste of basil. The Spicy Guava Tea (Rs.120/-) was a lovely combination of guava and desi spices - perfect for when you're under the weather. Both teas were well brewed and came with delicious biscotti. My tea was slightly lukewarm instead of piping hot, as I prefer it to be. But they do interesting signature tea combinations, which are absolutely worth a try in addition to the regular Assam, Nilgiri, Sancha, white, and green teas. Our white tea (Rs. 120/-) was a light, refreshing, mildly infused tea.

Strawberry Basil Tea and Spicy Guava Tea

White Tea
The food menu albeit being limited, does a few interesting items. The Dutch Pancakes or poffertjes are smaller miniature pancakes, that resembles mini idlis. Ours came floating in maple syrup, and were delicious and worth the hundred bucks we spent on it. I'm going back to try their salted peanut butter topping which was unavailable the evening we visited. 

Dutch Pancakes with Maple Syrup

The Mediterranean Sandwich (Rs. 180/- for a full portion) had tomatoes, basil leaves, and olives smothered with hummus and mozzarella. The combination of the hummus and mozzarella together made it a tad bit salty, which we had to mask by adding ketchup. The Smoked Chilli Cheese Toast (Rs. 150/- for a full portion of four decently sized pieces) was delicious, with stringy cheese, jalapenos, olives, and chilli. So much better than the versions of this snack we eat at regular coffee shops.

Smoked Chilli Cheese Toast
Mediterranean Sandwich 
Budget Bites: We paid approximately 250 rupees per head (including tax) which is what you would pay for a moderately sized coffee at Starbucks. The entire meal was well priced, and something I would definitely return for.

I'm hoping we become more open to drinking tea on our evenings out, rather than looking at it as a beverage we enjoy only at home. I do see that positive trend emerging, and I'm sure places like XVII may help foster that trend.We left stomachs satiated but minds pondering over the reason for the unusual name, the answer of which I later found out. Ask me nicely over a cup of tea at XVII, and I'll tell!

Contact: The XVII Tea Room, Shop 1, Darvesh Royale, Turner Road, Pali Hill, Bandra West, Mumbai.

(The author dined anonymously and paid for her own meal.)

28 November 2014

Jashn-E-Biryani Mubarak!

When I think of Indian royalty and the food they must have eaten one dish comes to mind - Biryani. The king of all rice dishes, is indeed a dish made for the kings. I think of meat, vegetables, dry fruits, ghee, spices laden in aromatic basmati rice. But the biryani has humble variants too - the pulaos and tehris - food of the common man. The biryani of Persian origin is such a versatile dish, with each region having their own adaptation. 

Highlighting biryanis across the country and showcasing the diversity of this dish is the Jashn-E-Biryani festival at the Neel restaurants in Mahalakshmi and Andheri. Chef Mukhtar Qureshi of Neel, who is a genius when it comes to Indian cuisine, has come up with an exhaustive menu of 12 biryanis (six vegetarian, and six non-vegetarian) that pay respect to this royal food. I got to sample the entire menu and I was left spell bound at not just the biryanis but the minute attention spent at even the accompaniments to each. Without further ado, here goes my biryani trail in random order!

Kareli ka Dum Doodhiya Pulao: (Rs. 885/-)
Appearances can be deceptive when it comes to the looks of this biryani. I was expecting it to be bland, but the rice is immensely flavored with the lamb stock and meat it is cooked in. It comes with the most well-done lamb shanks and spicy lamb koftas, that makes this one amazing pulao! The Gosht shorba that accompanies it was a spectacular meat flavored broth that would go perfectly on a cold winter night!

Kareli ka Dum Doodhiya Pulao
Jaituni Wadi Pulao: (Rs. 545/-)
The least favorite out of all the biryanis I tried that night, this pulao from Amritsar highlights the olives and urad dal wadis that are local to the place. The pulao was a tad bit bland for my liking, and even the Kashmiri Khatta Meetha Salan that accompanied could not redeem it.

Jaituni Wadi Pulao
Kheema aur Matar Ki Tehri: (Rs. 785/-)
The humble Tehri is an Awadhi rice preparation that is known to be a simple homely version of the biryani, characteristic for its yellow colour that comes because of the addition of loads of turmeric. This Tehri came with minced meat and peas, akin to a kheema pulao. The Gosht ka salan that came alongside helped take the biryani to another level.

Kheema aur Matar ki Tehri
Rampuri Katahal ki Biryani: (Rs. 545/-)
I was seriously considering giving this one a miss, since I'm not a fan of jackfruit one bit. This biryani cooked in the traditional dum method, stole my heart because of how well the jackfruit was treated, It looked like mutton when cooked, and tasted nothing like jackfruit does! 

Rampuri Katahal ki Biryani
Subz Chukandar Pulao: (Rs. 485/-)
Beetroot is another vegetable that comes on my hit list. And is another vegetable that wowed me that night. This pulao comes overdosed on beetroot along with mushrooms, peas and carrots, but is just the most fragrant vegetable pulao I've ever eaten. The Kashmiri Lauki Salan served alongside doesn't add to the dish at all, but the Gajar Kishmish Raita is a winner!

Subz Chukandar Pulao
Gajar Kishmish Raita
Jhinga Dum Biryani: (Rs. 685/-)
Oooh, prawn biryanis are my favorite. This one was decent, but nothing exciting to write home about. The prawns were cooked right, but the flavour of cinnamon was overpowering. Here, the Macchli ka salan that comes alongside stands out. The salan reminded me of the gravy of a Kerala fish curry, and is delicious enough to eat just by itself.

Jhinga Dum Biryani
Nizami Chutney Biryani: (Rs. 785/-)
This biryani comes with the much controversial potato! To potato or not to potato, in a biryani? The rice is coated with a delicious green chutney that is extremely aromatic, and the meat in the biryani picks up the chutney flavour too. The Burhani raita that comes alongside is a simple, spiced yogurt but so delicious I could eat a tub full.

Nizami Chutney Biryani
Gobhi aur Hare Matar Ki Tehri: (Rs. 485/-)
This pulao made with cauliflower and green peas is something you'd be able to whip up in your kitchen. Nothing exceptional, except for the accompanying dahi kachumbar which I enjoyed.

Gobhi aur Hare Matar ki Tehri
Dahi Kachumbar
Hyderabadi Masaledar Murgh Biryani: (Rs. 585/-)
This one is the traditional chicken dum biryani that we have eaten innumerable times, but a classic taste that one doesn't grow tired of. What sets the Neel version apart is the Murgh ka salan and Burhani raita that comes alongside, and adds 'chaar chaand' to this traditional version.

Hyderabadi Masaledar Murgh Biryani
Hyderabadi Kabuli Biryani: (Rs. 485/-)
This green variant owes its colour to the chutney in which it is cooked, owes its taste to the mustard seeds and curry leaves. The protein source in this dish is the addition of chana dal, which gives the biryani an interesting twist.

Hyderabadi Kabuli Biryani
Nizami Subz Biryani: (Rs. 545/-) WINNER!
A classic Hyderabadi vegetable biryani with carrots, beans, potatoes, roasted nuts and tons of spice. Served with raita, this traditional biryani is what all good vegetable biryanis should be. I did not miss the meat one bit!

Nizami Subz Biryani
Afghani Murg Tikka Pulao: (Rs. 585/-) WINNER!
Smoky and soft reshmi kebabs cooked in spiced rice, where the rice itself carries a smokey flavor, this pulao is what dreams are made of. The salan and raita accompanying it are redundant, the well cooked chicken makes this biryani a star.

Afghani Murg Tikka Pulao
Twelve different biryanis, each delicious in their own way accompanied by wonderful company and the magical ambience that Neel at Tote on the Turf promises, this night was perfect! Even though this biryani binge eating has satiated my craving for a while, I suggest if you're a fan of biryanis do not give this festival a miss. Worth every penny because where else can you feast like royalty?

Neel - Tote on the Turf, Mahalaxmi Racecourse, Gate 4 & 5, Keshva Rao, Mahalaxmi, Worli, Mumbai.
Neel, Opposite The Charcoal Project, Off Veera Desai Road, Andheri West, Mumbai.

Neel's Jashn-E-Biryani festival is on from the 28th  November to 7th December.

(The author represented MumbaiFoodLovers for the preview of the Jashn-E-Biryani festival, and dined there on invitation.)